My Fellow Inebriates,
Even though we’ve talked about this plenty of times, my parents broke one of our rules and bought a bottle of wine with an animal on the label. The bottle was in the Staff Picks section, so they thought, what the hell.
What the hell indeed. If you decided to bring home a bottle of PORCUPINE RIDGE SYRAH (2012), it might be because you employed a similar calculus. It’s not like the bottle notes reveal much. Apparently my parents were content to read about porcupines (nocturnal, potato-eating, snuffling, etc.) rather than select a wine for its winey characteristics. I did eventually find some tasting notes written vertically on the back label (“spicy, aromatic rich-textured, French-oaked and lingering”) beside an essay about porcupines, but not before we’d downed the stuff.
Porcupines are a nuisance in South Africa, where they eat pumpkins and potatoes in a noisy, grunting manner and seemingly impart a barnyard note to grapes cultivated in certain Boekenboutskloof vineyards. If you wanted to learn more about porcupines (estrus, copulatory plugs, freaky quills) you could consult Wikipedia, but you wouldn’t be looking for wine then, would you?
We made our rule about animals on the label for good reason, MFI. Particularly antipodal animals—and not exclusively marsupials. Nevertheless, my parents were persuaded by the Staff Picks sign, and so they picked up this Syrah, paid $16.99 for it, and brought it home.
One mark in PORCUPINE RIDGE SYRAH’s favor is its 14.5 percent alcohol, a kick-ass level that had me running for the decanter. First impressions: ripe, dark fruit with smoky, spicy chocolate on the nose. Snuffling around behind these promising chords is a hint of barnyard. On the palate, PORCUPINE RIDGE is mouth-filling and lively, with pepper and oak at the forefront. Gamey and earthy, it has palate-parching tannins and a tarry, anise finish, with wild-game notes never distant. For complexity, it’s well worth the experiment, but…well. It has too many notes.
You all know I’m an idiot bear, and who’s to say these notes I would have happily subtracted from PORCUPINE RIDGE weren’t the very notes well-trained wine enthusiasts covet? But somehow…I found myself wondering what porcupines smell like, and if we need them in our house.
“They probably smell better than you, LB,” said my parents, and again began discussing a future appointment they say I have with the washing machine. So I pounded as much PORCUPINE RIDGE as I could, because I was afraid, people.
Elementary school barfs out almost as many bullshit phrases as your typical business-speak corporation, so it was no surprise to see a sign in the lobby about PHYSICAL LITERACY.
According to Physical & Health Education Canada, “individuals who are physically literate move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.”
Which is to say, if you’re physically literate, you’re physically fit. Unless it’s not okay to say “physically fit” anymore.
You’re damn straight wine literacy can’t be taught in three hours. You need to drink for a lot longer than three hours, friends, if you want to learn the ins and outs of wine. You couldn’t possibly try all the available varietals in three hours and be able to apply a discerning palate. Not even a supposed guru like Robert Parker, who claims he can remember the characteristics of every wine he’s ever tasted (and he does 50 at a time), could have become wine-literate in three hours.
But still…in the case of a phrase like “wine literacy” we’re talking about knowledge of the subject. And while experience with wine is necessary to achieve both intellectual knowledge and visceral understanding, we’re still talking about a discipline that involves verbal and written descriptions of wine, not to mention a fair whack of studying for the really serious oenophile.
So when Miss V, who is reading “Cool Cats Drive” admirably but probably won’t tackle the Harper Canadian Government’s position paper on physical literacy anytime soon, what the hell does a stupid catchphrase like “physical literacy” mean? Does it mean she knows about monkey bars and slides and tetherballs, and does her so-called physical literacy increase as she betters her skills at these activities or only when she learns that her calf muscles are called the gastrocnemius and soleus?
If you saw V on the monkey bars you would not question evolution (I’m speaking to you, Langley). The kid is a serious monkey. Unlike monkeys, however, she knows how to write her phone number, albeit with the 2s backwards. If “physical literacy” means being good at physical stuff, the kid is also physically literate. But can’t we just say she’s fit? Or does that discriminate against paunchy kids and child amputees? I don’t want to be a dick, but you’d think “fit” would do here.
One kind of literacy V doesn’t have (this time I’m speaking to you, Child Services) is wine literacy. That’s why we waited until she was in bed before opening our bottle of BORSAO CAMPA DE BORJA GARNACHA (2011). Another inexpensive Spanish find, BORSAO is a blend of 70% Garnacha, 20% Syrah, and 10% Tempranillo. We bought it, curiously enough, because it had a shelf-talker quoting Robert Parker raving about the stuff. Ninety points he said, and goodness knows you have to take a mark like that seriously when the scale starts at 50 and everything under 85 is considered shit. LOL.
We decanted it, noting (with our oenological semi-literacy) that it was a young wine, plus we’ve found that when Tempranillo is present to any degree we’re in for a lot of interesting changes as the wine breathes, so decanting is a must. And BORSAO was no exception. It was immediately enticing, yes, and Mum and I were ready to guzzle it with abandon, but Dad said it was a bit rough at first. So we let it sit for a while, and indeed it did open up, developing all sorts of nuance. Before that happens, you get a fantastic fruit-forward orgy; 45 minutes in the decanter and you get something quite special.
Aromas: ripe berries and spice. BORSAO is full-bodied and complex, serving up tasty dark fruit and multi-layered detail—hints of tobacco and flowers that awaken as the wine sits.
Now you know I really hate waiting to drink wine. But decanting isn’t BS; it really works, and BORSAO was a gratifying example of what happens when you do wait. Now if we could only teach V to wait for stuff.
*I swear I didn’t know that was going to come up when I googled it.
My Fellow Inebriates,
Surrounded by Gentiles in Langley, Canada, I almost forgot that today is the start of Hanukkah.
My Jewish uncle (who wraps the best-looking Christmas packages in the whole family) emphasizes that Hanukkah is a small occurrence on the Jewish calendar—not a “me too” answer to Christmas but a celebration in its own right. Uncle B is a good sport about Christmas even though he cultivates a broad misanthropy that blankets all faiths and he would happily downplay both Christmas and Hanukkah if his Catholic-raised wife (my mum’s sister) would permit it.
Another thing I haven’t mentioned—Uncle B doesn’t talk to bears. Despite our obvious animation and partial intelligence, he doesn’t see the bears at LBHQ. He’s like that kid who sees dead people, except the dead people are bears, and he doesn’t see them. So he’s actually not like that kid who sees dead people. But Uncle B has more brain cells than I do, so maybe he’s right, and Scary and I aren’t really here.
Which is to say, Uncle B doesn’t care what my Hanukkah plans are (harassing Hanukkah Harry for eight gifts). Nor is Uncle B going to show up with eight gifts.
I was thinking this when Christine arrived last night with her famous canvas bag. Eight days’ worth of gifts sounds great, but they are very small gifts—arguably the sort that make you crave larger gifts. (A teeny bottle of Patron, for example, would just foster rabid desire for a large one, but perhaps HH should bring it anyway as an experiment.)
Eight days of moderate satisfaction. Eight days of relative restraint.
So when Christine rang the doorbell I decided to throw my lot in with her rather than Hanukkah Harry, who actually forgot to visit us altogether last year. What could be in her canvas bag?
She’d brought stuff, and we had stuff waiting. While the kids gobbled pizza, we sampled eight things, unconsciously shooting the eight-present wad before we even remembered it was Hanukkah Eve.
Cannery Squire Scotch Ale
Hazy dark copper with a soap-sud head, this ale gives off a woody, malty, butterscotchy aroma with perceptible peat. It could be chewier on the palate, but it delivers a mellow sweetness that goes down easily. Pretty ordinary, though. I’d get it again, but only if it were cheaper.
Capitão Rayeo Reserva (2009)
A blend of Syrah, Trincadeira, and Aragonez, this Portuguese red wine is aged six months in French oak barrels and weighs in at 14% alcohol. It would benefit from decanting, which we didn’t bother doing, only to find that it had developed into a gem by the time our glasses were finished. A cheap gem too—at $14 bucks, it serves up rich fruit, supple tannins, and some unexpected depth.
Ola Dubh 16
The product of a collaboration between Harviestoun Brewery and Highland Park Distillery, this dark “black oil” boasts 8% ABV and exudes oak, smoke, peat, and molasses. On the tongue it’s surprisingly moderate in weight, Scotch-like characteristics becoming more pronounced and diverse. Roasty-toasty with vanilla, chocolate, and coffee, the overall sensation is velvety and marvelous with a nice boozy burn.
Innis & Gunn Rum Finish
Beer with a rum-cask finish? OMG! Why aren’t more brewers doing this? The malty, enveloping INNIS & GUNN—but pirate-style. Rich mahogany bronze with gorgeous clarity, this 7.4% elixir fills the mouth with toffee, smoke, candied fruit, vanilla, and the promised rum essence. Every taste bud is rewarded with a symphony of masterfully harmonized flavors. What a treat. We knew whatever we had after this would suffer by comparison, so we switched gears…
We’d been thinking our homemade hooch was barely a success, but it surprised us by being pleasant and drinkable. While all of us agreed it wasn’t exactly Bailey’s, it wasn’t nasty either.
Canadian Cream II
Unbeknownst to me, my mother made a second batch of Wiser’s whisky–based cream liqueur, this time tasting and tweaking as she went, loosely following a much simpler recipe reliant on fewer canned items and therefore ending up fresher-tasting and more successful. Still not a match with Bailey’s, but totally yummy. But why the hell didn’t my mum invite me to help???
If we can drink rum-flavored beer, we can eat whisky-flavored balls. I promised I wouldn’t describe Christine as “eating my balls,” but we all agreed my balls could use more booze. Even a spray-misting with more whisky would have helped them. But then again, perhaps Wiser’s just doesn’t have enough character to carry a whisky ball.
Highland Park 12
Cue angel song! Cue God-rays! Ahhhhhhh, this was what Christine’s canvas bag contained. Silky and palate-coating with a teasing honey sweetness, HIGHLAND PARK 12 lulls you with malt, then surprises with delicate smoke and vanilla, barely perceptible peat, and an endless finish. Christine, Christine, Christine…sigh.
You see, I passed out after our wee dram and didn’t wake up until the next morning. Christine had had coffee and left, sensibly opting out of the family’s planned “breakfast with Santa.” I awoke alone, with a furry tongue (like every day). And I was sad. I would have liked to hug her good-bye.
So there you have it: eight days of gifts, all in one day—the day before Hanukkah. We did the opposite of what scientists advise for optimal emotional and intellectual development: hastened gratification rather than delayed it. If you’re familiar with the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, you’ll know that, of preschool children offered a marshmallow along with two options (eat it immediately or wait 15 minutes and get two marshmallows), those who chose the second option grew up to have higher SAT scores, more self-assurance, higher social competence, and better reasoning abilities.
By taking our eight gifts before Hanukkah, we didn’t take option 2. We didn’t even take option 1. We took option 0, which probably explains a certain brain-cell shortage in yours truly 😉
Happy Hanukkah, my fellow inebriates.